To many of us longtime comic book fans, Steve Ditko was an enigma.
We knew that, as the original artist on The Amazing Spider-Man and as the creator of Doctor Strange, Steve Ditko was responsible for much of Marvel’s early success. Though he would never make a cameo appearance in an MCU film and the mainstream media will probably always continue to act as if Stan Lee is solely responsible for every character in the Marvel Universe, true fans know that, without Steve Ditko, Benedict Cumberbatch would never have cast as spells as Doctor Strange and Tom Holland would never have swung through New York as everyone’s favorite web slinger.
We all knew of Steve Ditko’s talent but the man himself remained a mystery. He rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, saying that he preferred to let his work speak for itself. And what work it was! With Spider-Man, Ditko’s art captured not just the excitement of fighting criminals and saving the world but also the angst and anxiety of being young and overburdened. With Doctor Strange, Ditko brought magic, both literally and figuratively, to the Marvel Universe. Filling the pages with surrealistic images and out-of-this-world creations, Ditko kept Marvel relevant even as youth culture made the transition from the optimism of the Kennedy era to the drug-influenced psychedelia of the late 1960s.
Ditko left Marvel in 1966. The exact story of his departure are unknown. Perhaps, as a committed and outspoken Objectivist, Ditko chafed at the editorial restrictions that Marvel put on his work. While Stan Lee wanted to sell comics, Steve Ditko wanted to reach minds. After leaving Marvel, Ditko worked for several different companies, including Charlton and DC. (He even returned to Marvel in 1979 and regularly contributed freelance work to the company.) The best-known of his later creations was Mr. A, a reporter-turned-masked-vigilante who dispensed of criminals with uncompromising justice.
Despite his reputation for eccentricity, most people who worked with him described Ditko as being personable and cheerful. According to Charlton’s Frank McLaughlin, “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy with a great sense of humor at that time, and always supplied the [female] color separators with candy and other little gifts.”
On June 29th, Steve Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment. Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko. Thank you for sharing your imagination with us.
From The Amazing Spider-Man #33:
In Strange Tales, Ditko introduced my favorite of all of Marvel’s “cosmic” entities, Eternity:
And finally, the character who may have been closest to Ditko’s worldview, Mr. A: